From the time he announced it, Omar Afra promised that Day For Night wouldn't just be “Free Press Winter Fest” but rather an experimental mash-up of top-notch music and stunning visual art. The FPH publisher and co-founder of the insanely successful Free Press Summer Fest insisted Day For Night wouldn't be “just another festival.”
It certainly wasn't, and not just because of the musicians Afra and company somehow managed to score (that Houston, for instance, got to see New Order's one and only live U.S. gig of 2015 is nothing short of remarkable). New York-based artist Alex Czetwertynski, whom Afra called “a wizard,” curated an extraordinary collection of sound and light sculptures scattered across the Silver Street Studios compound. Day For Night wasn't just a bang-up music party but one of the city's best visual art events of the year.
It's just too bad the festival made a lot of that art really, really hard to appreciate.
That's in large part because of all the installations awkwardly tucked into dark corners inside Silver Street. Much of the work was projected onto thin, vertical stretches of wall down the end of darkened hallways. Maybe ten or 15 people could comfortably view and appreciate each installation at any given time. It made for an experience more cramped than engaging and immersive. I saw plenty of people who shrugged and walked away after peeking down a hallway and seeing a small churning crowd of people struggling to see the work. It felt like contrived exclusivity, a microcosm of the stuffy art world crammed into a claustrophobic hallway.
Notwithstanding the installations that were afforded entire warehouses (like NONOTAK Studio's disorienting light tunnels), it was an unfortunate setup for a festival with the express goal of blending musical performance and visual art. Sure, many of the bands used the giant hovering screens behind the stages to turn their performances into genuine audio-visual experiences (on Saturday, the day I attended, New Order and Prince Rama were perhaps the best at this). But for that lag time between sets, those big, impressive stage displays just rotated different versions of that clean, understated Day For Night logo.
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As Afra told us earlier this month, Day For Night was meant to be a visual art experience that guided you from stage to stage, an event where the artwork permeated the festival for an experience that's “as stimulating as when you're standing staring at a stage.” There was a little bit of that once the sun went down and a couple of projections popped up on walls near the festival's main stage. Still, I kept thinking how awesome it would've been to see Kamil Nawratil's trippy, drippy digital sculptures crashing and flowing on those giant festival screens that lit up the night. Instead it felt hidden, confined inside that dark Silver Street hallway.
And therein lies my only, and admittedly minor, gripe with Day For Night, that so much of the artwork was tucked away to either go unseen or under-appreciated. The festival was a worthy experiment in part because it wasn't just another music festival but a unique multi-sensory experience, a festival where you're surrounded not just by sound but by mind-bending digital sculptures.
Maybe next year (and I truly hope there will be a next year) Afra can bring more art out of the shadows to create that “stimulating” experience he's envisioned.